[OUTLOOK]Strengthen industry-academic tiesOur universities have earned a very small amount of revenue from licensing their patents, according to a recent report released by Lee Ju-ho, a Grand National Party legislator.
From 2002 to 2004, 194 South Korean universities earned 4.33 billion won ($4.6 million) from licensing their patents, which means 7.4 million won per university per year.
The licensing revenue in 2003 was only 0.14 percent of the money spent for research and development by universities, which was 1.9 trillion won.
Although education and research are regarded as major tasks for universities, these figures illustrate how far we are behind the mainstream of the world.
Universities in other nations are making all their efforts to merge their universities’ technology with industry. In this era, when a new technology is developed each day, companies feel that they need to use universities’ high technological expertise in order to survive.
Japan has an institute called the Technology Licensing Organization. This is a so-called “technology realtor” which connects universities’ patents and research results with businesses. This institute follows laws that the Japanese government designed in 1998 to “revive the economy by connecting universities’ technology and industry.”
This institute has made tours around universities to find new technologies. It has also taken out patents and received revenue by licensing them. The money is divided among the professors who worked to develop the technology and their universities.
In 2004, 39 offices of the Technology Licensing Organization earned 2.9 billion yen ($25.8 million). The institute functions as a midwife as well. Last year, the number of university venture companies reached more than 1,000.
The Japanese government revised its laws for trust businesses in a bid to support the business of universities licensing patents. Thanks to these new laws, financial institutes started to manage trusted patents and have made profits from them.
There are also many angel funds that invest money in university venture companies. Joint research by universities and companies has been actively conducted. There were 10,728 joint research projects in 2004. Universities are putting all their efforts into technology transfer because competition is fierce these days.
National universities were incorporated in 2004 and have obtained autonomy. A lot of private universities are having financial difficulties because of low number of students. That means they need to make extra revenue and get sponsorships in order to survive.
In China in 2004, 592 universities ran technology businesses and achieved sales of 80.7 million yuan ($11.2 billion). Businesses run by universities have seen tremendous results.
In the United States, 2,200 university venture companies have been established since the 1980s. These companies have created 8,000 or so patents and around 250,000 jobs. Technologies developed by universities have been commercialized and made profits of more than $30 billion.
Industry-academic cooperation in South Korea is, however, still in its early stages. Before 1997, the number of patents universities had applied for was less than 400. In 2003 and 2004, this number increased to almost 2,000. However, universities just sell or lend their patents. Although there are 2,300 venture companies founded by professors or researchers, there is hardly one that has become successful using their patents. The money a university earns from its patents averages about 140,000 won.
“A lack of competence to measure the technological value of a patent of a university, and inactive angel funds in the private sector are the main reasons,” says a staff member at the Ministry of Education and Human Recourses Department.
In this respect, some worry about technology drain, saying, “A foreign company could buy a patent from our university and make products with that technology.”
Fortunately, the Korean authorities have realized that it is important to industrialize technology developed by universities. Many universities have created special departments for industry-academic cooperation. The second phase of the Brain Korea 21 project includes special programs for industry-academic cooperation.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development and six other institutes have started a project called “Connect Korea.” Under this, they will invest 150 billion won for the next five years starting this year, in a bid to transfer promising technologies from universities and research centers to companies for commercial purposes.
Some people argue that we need to allow universities to establish “holding companies under industry-academic cooperation” as a way to revitalize universities’ commercial activities.
Regulations in such areas as the financial sector should be loosened and a proper infrastructure should be built to see positive results from the cooperation between schools and industries. Universities should change their understanding about business to a positive attitude and companies should provide active cooperation.
We should think of universities as treasure houses of technology. Only then will our universities, economy and society sail through this era of global competition.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Day-young